Cape Town, Tuesday, 5 March, 1901, Purim

To my dearest wife, Taube Kretzmar, be well and live and enjoy. And to my dear children, be well, my sons David and Noah and daughters Leah and Freda, may they all grow up in wealth and happiness.


Dear wife, I have todayYom Purim received your letter of the 26th of January and thereby I celebrated Purim because it is a day of drinking and happiness. The news that you were well was to me like a feast, so I celebrated with tea and giving presents. I shall have to be satisfied with this letter, because I cannot do what I would like to do. The only thing is not to forget to do it. PG in the future I should be able to do better, and that it will always be in a good mood and in a Yomtov spirit and happy and not artificial because alas today it cannot be done. But we must wait until it will be better, as it is written (from the Purim service) ‘relief will come from another place’, and it will come PG because everything that happens to the fathers will happen to the children.


Tsoris we have had enough, so we must wait for relief, as it was for the doctor who came to visit an aristocratic lady in childbirth. As usual he examined the patient, and when he saw it was not time yet, he went into another room. The lady groaned in all languages – in Russian, in German, in English and in French. Someone came into the room and said,

‘For God’s sake, come and help her, she’s losing all her strength’.


‘It’s not yet time,’ the doctor replied.


But it became serious and was no more a joke, and now she screams with all her might,

‘Oi! – Rabbanish shel olam, help!’


So the doctor said: ‘Now it is the right time.’


And as she mentioned the Lord’s name, it was no more a joke.

The same can be said about the Johannesburgers. They were certain aristocrats – they were in a group of educated, knowledgable people – as well as ordinary people who also became clever – a chacham,  e.g. a man who was an assistant to a foreman driving a coach – and now he has his own houses; or a tailor, who in the village made pants on account of business, and here he has become a big merchant of clothes. 


Meanwhile, if the husband is a chacham – the wife is a female chacham,a madam. That means, ‘I’m a big lady, and it’s infra dig to speak Yiddish’… to conduct herself as a Jewish person. So I felt myself in an aristocratic tight corner. According to the jewellery and the clothes, she looks like a real English lady, but according to the appearance of her hands, they weren’t so aristocratic, as she worked with them, like stamping grain-seeds to make flour. So at first it was said ‘time was very bad’ but it would pass, but afterwards it became worse, the pocket got emptier and you start talking Yiddish again – a Yiddishe mazel – maybe if we could have lived peacefully – you suddenly get a bad day in Cape Town with a big grievance … but now, alas, all the bright ones, and also a home-wagon driver, agree the times are very bad. It is already time that God should show some mercy because it is now more or less the same at home in Russia. But now one hopes that if you talk to Him in Yiddish He will listen, because He is very fond of Yiddish and is not ashamed of it, even before a king. Just as we find, when God sent Moses to Pharoah, the king of Egypt, he told him to say that he was the God of the Jews, and of the Big Book which he offered to all the kings, as it is written ‘He appeared in Mount Poron [?], meaning that he offered the Torah to all the nations and they refused it. So it was also written in Yiddish.


‘So he will have to fulfil the wishes of his people ‘and the Jews will enjoy success and comfort and will be happy even in these dry days when we had tsorres and we will remember nothing in the future when there will be good times’.


Please excuse me as I have wandered a bit and I’m getting sleepy- so I must explain that one has to be drunk before you know what’s what, but what can you do when you cannot fulfil it with liquor – so one had to write and talk a lot and talking a lot is a sign that you don’t know what you are talking about, So it is the same as if I had been drinking.


This letter I wrote Sunday before receiving your letter that you had to pay 10 rouble more than what you thought. I am writing to tell you that I cannot say anything about it, I myself did not take the money from Weber but David Michael must have taken it. I brought my things to David Michael and he said that he knew all about it and heshould get some money. So it remained with him until it will come back to us. And David Michael went and brought the money and wrote out the receipt, probably in my name, but I cannot recall anything about this. Of course one has gone through a lot of troubles since then, maybe we have forgotten, but I think it wasn’t more than 50 rouble. You can get the whole truth from David Michael because he gave the receipt and took the money, so he must know. But it is possible that David Michael, who is a needy one himself, took the ten roubels for himself. When you get the goods back, he will have to add the ten roubels with the interest and so he received 60 roubels and I got only 50 roubels, but, if so, David Michael will have to tell you the truth. So, therefore, you must meet up with David Michael in order to find out the truth. From me, your husband Tuvye Kretzmar

© Kaplan Centre
Letters courtesy of Phil Kretzmar